They struck some time in the dead of the night, after the clock had ticked over from Tuesday to Wednesday. By 5.30 am, as some passengers on the August Kranti Rajdhani from Mumbai to Delhi, woke up near Kota in Rajasthan, it was all over.
In one of the most high-profile cases of train theft in recent years, cash and valuables worth lakhs were stolen from around 20 passengers on the Rajdhani by thieves who, police suspect, were travelling in the train as bona fide, ticket-holding passengers.
According to a preliminary assessment by Railway Protection Force (RPF) and Government Railway Police (GRP), the thieves are suspected to have got going after the train had crossed Vadodara at around 10.30 pm and most of the passengers had fallen asleep.
Based on passengers’ accounts, investigators have concluded that the thieves completed the job near Ratlam in Madhya Pradesh between 2 am and 3 am — Ratlam is the only stop for the train between Vadodara and Kota.
Officials said the train was being escorted by three RPF constables that night. The thefts took place in AC-2 and AC-3 coaches of the train, which has 11 halts between Mumbai and Delhi.
“There was no chain-pulling, which is what local gangs do to flee after stealing. Plus, the circumstances in which empty wallets were found point towards bona-fide passengers who did the job with ample time in hand,” a senior RPF official told The Indian Express. Some empty wallets were recovered from toilets and vestibules.
“We have tried to zero down on certain possibilities of the case. In past cases, involvement of the catering staff has been witnessed, either partly or completely. We have taken statements from the staff present inside the train,” said Rajinder Malik, Chief Security Commissioner, Jabalpur, West Central Railway. Malik ruled out the possibility of the passengers having been drugged by the robbers.
Investigators are also studying case histories of crime incidents on this route over the last 18 months to see if there is a pattern.
While a group of passengers got off in Mathura, 11 passengers filed separate FIRs at the GRP station at the Nizamuddin station in Delhi.
According to these FIRs, cash worth Rs 2.5 lakh, apart from gold jewellery, six mobile phones, credit and debit cards, PAN and Aadhaar cards and passports were among the items stolen. One passenger claimed to have been carrying Rs 1.25 lakh in cash.
“My wife’s wallet is missing. It had Rs 21,400 in cash, a mobile phone, Aadhaar card, house keys and other important things,” said Ramesh Kalra, who had boarded the train with his wife in Borivali.
“We lost at least Rs 15,000 in cash and other belongings. We were part of a group of 13 heading towards Mathura for a religious visit. Most of our belongings were stolen from the section in which the women with us were travelling,” said Piyush Singh, a resident of Bhayander.
“Cash worth Rs 15,000 along with mobile phones and debit cards of my mother have been stolen. We have registered a case,” said Aklam Shaikh, from Mira Road.
Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu said these incidents have been happening for years. “These crimes have been taking place for years, and now they have come down. But we are trying to make things more secure for passengers by installing CCTV cameras in coaches,” said Prabhu.
According to official figures, there has been a 33 per cent increase in theft of passengers’ belongings in the Railways system when compared to last year. Between January to June this year, there have been 12,573 such cases, compared to 9,436 during the same period last year.
In this case, the GRP in Nizamuddin has lodged FIRs under Section 380 of the IPC, which deals with theft, punishable with imprisonment up to seven years and a fine. The FIRs have been transferred to the Ratlam GRP.
Earlier this year, a woman travelling in the same train had accused a catering staff of stealing her jewellery. The RPF has constituted a three-member team to assist the state police forces of three states in the probe.
However, going by past record, these investigations get stuck for months due to disputes between states and even districts within a state over jurisdiction.
The Railways has maintained that since law and order is a state subject, the RPF patrolling of a running train is deployed as per inputs from states and past trends.
The Railways is planning to launch upgraded services of Rajdhanis and Shatabdis from October with CCTV cameras on coaches — but not all coaches will have the facility, to begin with.